Informix to build 4-D database manager for EOSDIS

For Informix Software Inc., designing a NASA database means leaping into the fourth dimension.

Tapped to supply a primary database management system (DBMS) for NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS), the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company has promised NASA it can catalog and manage the staggering amount - multiple petabytes - of sensing data pouring in from EOS satellites.

Informix aims to provide NASA scientists with an easy way to find, for example, all EOSDIS images of the northern-most tip of the Rocky Mountains over a time span of 10 summers.

Such a data query, which allows scientists to choose specific spots on Earth and see them change over time, is an example of "4-D" searching, according to Informix. The approach incorporates longitude, latitude, height and time.

"This is complicated data that people are asking to access in a visual way," said Jackie McAlexander, business manager for geospatial, Informix Federal.

A database that can categorize data according to "3-D space [plus] time is the holy grail for scientists," she said.

An 'Extendable' Database

Informix will deliver to NASA its Illustra DBMS, which it is marketing as an "extendable" database. Developers can "extend" the DBMS search capabilities as new search needs arise.

To do this, scientists will design their own Illustra DataBlade modules, which define new data structures and new algorithms to manipulate the structures. Because scientists can extend a database by developing these new DataBlades, they have "a consistent interface to plug algorithms into," said Paul Brown, senior consultant with Illustra Information Technologies, which was acquired by Informix this year.

"As EOSDIS goes along, NASA will want to ask questions of the data that they can't even formulate now," said Jesse Worthington, federal product marketing manager at Informix.

"With Illustra, you can create new datatypes and ask new questions when you want to," he said.

For example, with a custom-made DataBlade, a scientist would be able to query the database by circling an area of interest on a map.

"The interface is more intuitive. And backing that up is a database that exactly models what the user is doing on the front end," McAlexander said, "so if the user is drawing a polygon on a screen, the database knows what a polygon is so the user can submit the polygon search."

"Informix has made a bet that the future will require a different base technology" for database management, said Ed Hammersla, executive director of Informix Federal.

"People will want to search visually rather than pop up rows and columns. EOSDIS is one of the first instances we've seen that confirms that."

The data types in the same database, including numbers, images, maps, sound, video, World Wide Web pages and text.

"Many defense and intelligence communities are watching this project because of its scale and because it plugs science into the information," McAlexander said.

Electronic Data Systems Corp. chose the Illustra DBMS in May on behalf of Hughes Information Technology Systems, the prime contractor for the EOSDIS Core System project. The database is scheduled for operation in mid-1997, and Informix's contract runs through 2002.


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